Welcome to another Guest Blog article – delving into some wary tales of werewolves from the region of Flanders, as written by Signe Maene. If you would like to submit an article, please tell us about your proposal using the form on the Contact page and we will be in touch. Thank you for reading!
Wolves disappeared from Belgium during the 19th century, after they were ruthlessly hunted for ages. Fortunately, they have started to find their way back into these grounds in recent years. As we all know, the main reason why wolves were brutally shot down was because they were feared by people, as well as to protect livestock. This is also reflected in the folk tales and history of Flanders.
This article will cover some of these folk tales and superstitions where these hairy animals played a major role. We’ll visit stories in which wolves paralysed the local population with fear, but we’ll also look into some tales in which the reluctant werewolf patiently awaited for his saviour, as well as delving deeper into the tragedies and horror the belief in werewolves caused. This article will focus on Flemish lore, but many similar stories can be found throughout the world of folklore.
The Revenge Of The Werewolf
One of my favourite Flemish werewolf tales is the one of a beast who retaliates when he becomes the victim of bullying. Legend says that a farm was in need of extra workers. They decided to hire a man who was known to be a lycanthrope in the area, but who was also held in high regard because he was a hard-working labourer. The wolf accepted, but there was one condition: the doors must remain unlocked during the night so that he can leave the house and enter the woods at night easily. The workers agreed to his terms, but mocked him behind his back. The first and second night they locked the door, contrary to the werewolf’s wishes, but besides the wolf occasionally grumping at them while they sneered, nothing happened. The third night however, the animal started to become restless in their midst. He asked them politely to open the door—not once, but twice. All the workers could do was laugh.
When the wolf said he would bring the devil into their bodies if they didn’t open the door immediately, the labourers poked even more fun at him. The lycanthrope went to the attic and lowered himself through the window by holding on to bedsheets. He would return, but he wouldn’t return as a human being. The next night, one of the maids who had ridiculed him woke up when she heard a gruesome rattling sound. When day broke she saw four paw prints larger than those of a dog branded into the gutter. The night after that, the farmworkers nearly died out of fright when they noticed a ferocious, hairy beast standing on the windowsill. This was the last time any of them saw the werewolf, but their sequence of bad luck had yet to begin. In the months that followed, around twenty cows died on the farm—and everyone who had mocked the wolf had to deal with misfortune after misfortune.
Those Who Reluctantly Howl At The Moon
This werewolf was comfortable in his own skin and had every right to be, but there are plenty of other lycanthropes in Flemish folktales who saw their ability to shapeshift into a wolf as nothing more than a cruel curse. In these tales, the reluctant werewolf often hides his skin in a tree in the forest, or tucks the fur coat safely away into a pile of wood. Inevitably, someone discovers the place where the folkloric animal has hidden their skin and sets it alight, often by throwing it into a bonfire. As soon as the flames touch the skin, the wolf appears out of nowhere. He screams, raves, nearly pulls his hair out and is ready to viciously attack the person who stole his skin, but once that skin turns into a powder that is no longer recognisable, a smile appears on the face of the former werewolf. He then thanks the person who destroyed the object that had been his jailor for so many years. He’s now liberated and no longer forced to roam the forests and howl at the moon when darkness falls.
For werewolves who hoped to be set free one day, it was very important to never lose their clothes. Misplacing their garments meant that they would lose the ability to become human, and would remain a wolf forever. In some of these tales, the werewolf runs away wailing in a terrifying way that makes bystanders break out in a cold sweat. In other versions, the wolf flies away. Other stories say that the idea of werewolves having the power to fly stems from the fact that a loup-garou would be standing next to you in a matter of seconds if you threw his skin into the fire. In some of these folktales, people also steal the clothes of the werewolf in order to vanquish him.
Another superstition says that the only way to defeat a werewolf is to cut the beast with a knife that has cut through bread or earth first. Wolflore is also sometimes similar to the stories that are told surrounding a unique figure from Flemish folklore who is most often known under the name Kludde. Kludde is a mysterious, monstrous and demon-like figure who used to fill Flanders with terror. He’s a first-rate shapeshifter who most often appears as a nightmarish black dog—but Kludde also likes to transform himself into an enormous bird, a cat, a bat, or even horrifying trees. One of Kludde’s favourite pastimes is to force people to carry him, and the Flemish werewolf is no different.
According to superstition, one way to figure out if you were dealing with a werewolf was to cut into the flesh of the beast that you were carrying. The werewolf would immediately become a werewolf again. In some of these stories, the werewolf assured his victim that he would never bother the poor half-broken soul again, but only if that person would never reveal the identity of the wolf to anyone. If the victim did betray the werewolf, they would see each other again, and the carrier would become a murder victim. Other superstitions say that werewolves could only be hurt by an axe that had been soaked in salvia. A less disgusting superstition says they must be harmed at the place where they had received the Sacrament of Confirmation.
The Devil, Werewolves And Tragic History
With the abundance of werewolves being romanticised in films, books and video games within the fantasy world, it’s sometimes easy to forget that these mythical beings stroke terror into the hearts of many. Martin Delrio who was born in 16th century Antwerp is best known for writing six volumes on the subject of superstitions, the devil and witchcraft. In his work, he mentions demonic entities were fashioned in the form of werewolves to wreak havoc on the countryside and devour any living being in sight. It was also thought that some people had the ability to shapeshift into wolves by making a deal with the devil. This is a belief that would prove to be tragic for a number of people during what is now known as the ‘Werewolf Witch Trials’.
One of the people in Flanders who was strangled and burned at the stake was Mathys Stoop in 1657. It was thought the devil had given him a belt which transformed him into a wolf and allowed him to commit the most ghastly of crimes. Cathelyne van den Bulcke, who was executed as a witch in 1590, told her questioners that eight werewolves were active in and around Antwerp. They were thought to be children who were cursed by their parents and busied themselves by committing robberies and murdering people whose bodies they disposed of in pits. As in many of these trials, the suspected ‘witch’ told her questioners what they wanted to hear after being subjected to severe torture. The fact that they asked her about werewolves suggests that the belief in diabolic shapeshifters was very real. Tragically, many more would become victims of the werewolf trials, not just in the Low Countries, but throughout Europe.
In summary, it can only be said that mocking a lycanthrope, or any other folkloric being, is something that you will certainly regret as it will ensure that nothing but bad luck will come your way. Since many of these creatures lurk in the shadows and don’t reveal themselves, the best advice is to never ridicule anyone. I would also like to note this is only a short article on a subject that is deserving of its very own book.
De Cock, A. (1921) Vlaamsche Sagen uit de Volksmond, Amsterdam, Maatschappij voor Goede en Goedkope Lectuur.
Sinninghe, J.R.W. (1948) Oude Volksvertellingen, Oisterwijk, Uitgeverij Oisterwijk.
Vanhemelryck, F. (2000) Het Gevecht met de Duivel, Leuven, Davidsfonds.
Vlaamse Volksverhalenbank [Online]. Available at https://www.volksverhalenbank.be/ (Accessed 1 November 2022)
Vanysacker, D. (2002) ‘Lycantrophie en Weerwolfprocessen in de Nederlanden Tijdens de Zestiende en Zeventiende Eeuw’ Tiecelijn [Jaargang 15] Geraadpleegd via DBNL (KB, nationale bibliotheek)
Signe Maene is a Belgian writer who is very passionate about folklore. She has worked on several projects based on folklore for the Alternative Stories and Fake Realities Podcast. Signe is currently working on a short story collection based on tales from Flemish folklore. You can visit her website www.signemaene.com or find her on Twitter @maenesigne.
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